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EWTN’s Warsaw: Network can be a ‘lifeline’ during pandemic

CNA Staff, Mar 28, 2020 / 07:00 am (CNA).- The chairman and CEO of EWTN said Thursday that the media network will remain open and on the air during the coronavirus pandemic. In a March 26 interview, EWTN’s Michael Warsaw said that the organization’s ministry is more urgent than ever.

“I think there's so much anxiety. There's so much fear. People feel untethered. And I think one of the things that EWTN provides is a place that people can turn to ground themselves, to connect themselves with the faith and really to find reassurance that God is there for them in this really difficult time,” Warsaw said on EWTN News Nightly.

Warsaw stressed that although the global pandemic has affected the lives of everyone, including EWTN employees, policies are in place to ensure that news and catechetical output will continue. He said that as the virus spread from the Asia-Pacific region, through Europe - and especially Italy - before arriving in the United States, the global media group adapted to the changing circumstances. 

“Most of our employees are working remotely. And we have essential staff who are still on duty in their posts in Irondale and here in Washington and elsewhere,” Warsaw said. “And we're certainly prepared if we need to do more restrictions.” 

“The bottom line of that is that we will continue to air our channels. We will continue to produce programming, particularly the Mass, news, other key programming that will continue, and we're prepared for that to continue.”

Warsaw stressed that, in addition to its news outlets, EWTN’s pastoral and catechetical content is an important resource for Catholics, and that with shelter-in-place orders active in many parts of the United States and the world, it is vital to serve as a link with the Church and with the wider communion of the faithful.

In response to the coronavirus, all Latin rite dioceses in the United States have suspended public Masses, with many bishops ordering the total closure of church buildings. Bishops have encouraged Catholic to watch livestreamed liturgies, and to use the media of television, radio, and the internet to foster prayer and spiritual communion. In these circumstances, Warsaw said, many Catholics have told him that EWTN’s output serves as a “lifeline.” 

“One of the things that I think we've heard so much about is, with all of the churches closed and the inability of people not just in this country, but globally, really to be able to attend Mass on Sunday, people tying into our Mass and participating remotely in our Mass, has been really a lifeline for many people to the practice of their faith, the ability to watch the Mass on EWTN, both on our linear channels, but also online on EWTN.com,” Warsaw said.

“From its founding, Mother Angelica always wanted EWTN and its audience to be a family. And I think in this time and in this moment we are very much a family for one another,” he added.

During the interview, Warsaw encouraged “three things that our EWTN family can do” together. 

“One is, certainly, pray. We need to pray for one another. Pray for the network, as we pray for them. I think, secondly, share what they have in the gift of EWTN. This is a great opportunity to evangelize. If people are benefiting by EWTN, they need to share that with their friends, share that with their family. That's a very effective way of helping others and evangelizing in this moment.” 

Third, Warsaw said, “keep us between your gas and electric bill, as Mother Angelica would always say.” 

“It's very important that we have the resources to be able to continue our mission and to continue to execute our mission to a much, much larger audience of people that are turning to us at this time.” 

“Financial support is critical for us in this moment as well,” Warsaw said. “And we're always obviously very grateful to our EWTN family for that.”

“So many people have commented how much that has meant to them and how meaningful that has been to them -- to be able to have that opportunity to pray and to know that when they are praying, when they are participating in and watching, that they're doing so with people all over the world who are part of that EWTN family.” 

Warsaw said that, at a time when so many are looking for meaning and answers in the face of a pandemic, EWTN is “really trying to be a resource for people, and to give people hope, and to remind people that in this moment, what's most important is that we need to keep our eyes fixed on Christ.”

“They're looking for hope and they're looking for answers. And I think them coming to EWTN is a beautiful thing and a way for them to find those answers and to find that hope that they're looking for,” he said.

EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest religious media network in the world. EWTN’s 11 global TV channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 300 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 domestic and international AM & FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; one of the largest Catholic websites in the U.S.; electronic and print news services, including Catholic News Agency, The National Catholic Register newspaper, and several global news wire services; as well as EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.

'A surge of hope': The fight to keep crisis pregnancy centers open

Washington D.C., Mar 28, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- Facing limited hours and a shortage of supplies, crisis pregnancy centers are working and praying with pregnant women, helping any way they can during the pandemic.

“I think we need to storm the heavens for all the women in crisis pregnancies, because they are in crisis, which means there’s a crisis at home. And if they’re sheltered-in-place, that means they’re in a situation of crisis, and they can’t get out,” said Mathilde Mellon, founder and CEO of Mulier Care – Pregnancy Help Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread quickly in the U.S., with more than 62,000 confirmed cases on Wednesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Businesses and non-profits across the U.S. are closing down or limiting their hours for public safety, and to comply with state and local health mandates.

This means that crisis pregnancy centers are having to operate short-staffed, at a distance, or even close their doors completely in a time when they are concerned abortion rates will go up.

Pregnancy centers are now developing new care plans, providing counseling over the phone or delivering needed supplies such as diapers and baby formula to the women who need them.

The Sisters of Life run their “Visitation Mission” in New York City for expectant mothers, and in the past weeks have been ensuring that women have the diapers, food, cribs, and strollers that they need, said Sister Virginia Joy who directs the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York.

A volunteer network has been sending food and gift cards for mothers and families, and women are being helped in their moves to maternity homes in different parts of the country.

Front Royal Pregnancy Center in rural Virginia, 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., is still operating but on an “essentials-only” policy. If women call ahead for material assistance, clinic helpers can bring baby formula or diapers to their door, and the clinic is still accepting phone calls for consultations on a case-by-case basis.

“Last week, we had a huge drop in the number of people who came to us for services,” clinic worker Olivia McDonough told CNA on Monday. The clinic normally serves 25 clients in a week, she said, but had just five clients last week.

In California, the state’s governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order on March 19. Marie Leatherby, executive director of the Sacramento Life Center, said it is “challenging” for the center to maintain its day-to-day operations with the mandate.

“Right now we’re running just kind of with the skeleton staff, mostly doing phone consultations, nurse consultations,” she said, as well as “drive-by baby care packages with diapers or baby baskets for newborns.”

Other centers have had to close their doors, such as Nashville’s Pregnancy Help Center.

“It’s devastating, because Planned Parenthood is still open, and our mayor won’t shut them down, and they’ve been deemed an essential service,” Mathilde Mellon told CNA. “Apparently, their abortions are a critical medical procedure, and it’s horrible.”

Mellon also runs a mobile medical unit, but had to halt its operations as well out of concern for the safety of her staff.

Abortion providers elsewhere have either been allowed to remain open or have done so in defiance of state orders.

Planned Parenthood affiliates in New York told Buzzfeed News last week that their doors were open.

In Ohio, Planned Parenthood affiliates continued to perform surgical abortions despite the state’s health department curtailing all non-essential or elective surgeries by the evening of March 18. The state’s attorney general wrote Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio’s Cincinnati surgery center on March 20, ordering them to “immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical elective abortions.”

The president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said that Planned Parenthood is “continuing to put abortion and profits before health and safety.”

On Tuesday, Dannenfelser and a coalition of pro-life leaders wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, asking him to urge abortion providers to cease operations and donate their personal protective equipment to hospitals for staff to treat the new coronavirus.

Other states, such as Washington and Massachusetts, have allowed abortions to continue despite canceling other elective surgeries. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, meanwhile, has applied the governor’s order to curtail most abortions in the state.

In New York, pro-life advocates frantically called the Respect Life Office saying that abortion clinics in the Bronx were packed with staff and clients, Sister Virginia Joy told CNA— a clear safety hazard in the very epicenter of the U.S. pandemic.

Tennessee Right to Life has been petitioning the state’s governor Bill Lee to shut down abortion facilities but “have not heard back” from the office, Mellon said. Nashville’s mayor John Cooper has been sympathetic to the abortion industry, she said, and “Planned Parenthood has got a stronghold here in Davidson County.”

And the fact that abortion providers remain open in a climate of fear and economic uncertainty is almost certainly bad news, pro-life advocates warn.

“We’re definitely worried about that,” McDonough told CNA. “I think that the economics is always the deciding factor with women considering abortion.”

“There’s just a lot of anxiety and fear, right now,” Leatherby said, noting that the phone calls and consultations at the Sacramento Life Center “just seem to be the abortion-minded in the past two weeks.”

On Monday the center had several callers hang up in the middle of the conversation. “We couldn’t seem to get women to want to talk to us. They just want that abortion, and that’s it, and there’s nothing we can do for them,” Leatherby said. “

In another case, a woman was told by her family that she was being selfish in bringing a child into the world at this time, Sister Virginia Joy said. In this case, pro-lifers need to be “getting them to be able to answer what they most want,” she said. “I think when you get to the bottom of a woman’s heart, what she most desires is to give life to her child.”

Tennessee’s abortion regulations—an “informed consent” provision and a mandatory 48-hour waiting period before having abortions—are still in effect, Mellon said, perhaps helping to reduce the number of abortions for women who are traveling to facilities in the state.

With the new coronavirus has come mass restrictions on businesses, and layoffs of workers have begun. U.S. consumers also began “panic buying” non-perishable items including baby diapers, which affected the supplies of local pregnancy care centers.

Leatherby noted that “the stores are all out of diapers and wipes,” and that several women had called the center looking for supplies as their baby showers had been canceled.

In Front Royal, women who had lost their jobs did request formula or diapers last week, McDonough said, adding that “we’re expecting to see a lot more clients like that over the next few weeks.”

Centers are also concerned about donations coming in. “Our fundraisers are all going by the wayside,” Leatherby said, noting that “anybody that could spare a gift would be really great, because I think that’s going to be a big worry coming up.”

“God is good. He’s taken care of the Life Center for 48 years now,” she said.

Prayers, however, are most needed, pro-life leaders say.

“It’s a supernatural grace that these women have to receive to choose life. It really has to be a work of the Holy Spirit,” Sister Virginia Joy said.

Last week, five women reportedly turned around before entering area abortion clinics even though no sidewalk counselors were present, she said.

They had seen people praying outside the clinic, and “that, kind of gave them a surge of hope,” she said. “They saw it as a sign to reach out for a different sort of help, not abortion, but to actually be able to choose life.”

The present crisis also presents a critical “opportunity” for society to rediscover the human dignity of the most vulnerable, she said.

“This could potentially be a huge moment of conversion, this desire to preserve life in the face of this virus,” she said. “May it be an opportunity to preserve and uphold the dignity of every human life at all stages.”

Brooklyn pastor is first Catholic priest in US known to die of coronavirus

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 10:21 pm (CNA).- A Brooklyn parish announced the death of its pastor, Fr. Jorge Ortiz-Garay, who died of coronavirus at approximately 6 p.m Friday evening. The priest is the first in the U.S. known to have died from the virus.

Journalist Rocco Palmo was the first to report that the priest died from the virus, which is the cause of a global pandemic.

On March 24, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that a priest at St. Brigid’s Parish in Brooklyn, where Ortiz was pastor, had contracted the coronavirus. On the same day, the parish posted on its Facebook page that Ortiz was “under observation in the hospital” and requested prayers “for his speedy recovery.”

On March 27, the parish posted on its Facebook page again:

“With a very sad heart, we inform you of the death of our dearest pastor, Father Jorge Ortiz Garay. We ask for your prayers for his eternal rest. We also ask you in a special way to pray for his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews who have lost a very special and loved person by his family, our community and many people around the country.”

Ortiz was born in Mexico City, and, according to his parish website, “At age 18, he joined the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way. It was through the involvement with this group that he felt his calling for the priesthood.”

He was ordained a priest in 2004 in Newark, and served parishes, along with missions of the Neocatechumenal Way, in New Jersey and New York City. He became pastor at St. Brigid's in 2019.

In addition to his parish and missionary work, Ortiz led Hispanic ministry initiatives in the Diocese of Brooklyn. He is remembered by friends as a fervent evangelist.

The first cleric in the U.S. known to have died of the virus was Deacon John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, OFM, who died March 20. Worldwide, more than 60 priests and at least one bishop have died of the virus.

More than 100,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the US, and more than 1,700 have died. In the state of New York, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic of the virus in the US, more than 600 people have died.

 

Mass. bishop 'suspends' sacramental anointing while rescinding controversial policy

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 08:51 pm (CNA).- After rescinding a controversial policy concerning sacramental anointing of the sick, the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts told priests Friday afternoon that anointing of the sick is “suspended” within the Diocese of Springfield.

Earlier this week, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski authorized a change to norms for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing, which is an essential part of the sacrament.

“I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient's room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with Holy Oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient's room and administer the oil,” Rozanski told priests in an email March 25.

On Friday afternoon the diocese told CNA it had rescinded that policy.

In fact, Rozanski emailed Springfield priests Friday afternoon explaining that “After further discussion and review, I am rescinding my previous directive and temporarily suspending the Anointing of the Sick in all instances.” 

The sacramental anointing of the sick is conferred upon those Catholics who are in danger of death.
 
“The first grace of this sacrament is one of strengthening, peace and courage to overcome the difficulties that go with the condition of serious illness or the frailty of old age. This grace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who renews trust and faith in God and strengthens against the temptations of the evil one, the temptation to discouragement and anguish in the face of death,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God's will. Furthermore, ‘if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven,’” the catechism adds.

The catechism explains that “as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."

According to the Church’s canon law, parish pastors “have the duty and right of administering the anointing of the sick for the faithful entrusted to their pastoral office. For a reasonable cause, any other priest can administer this sacrament with at least the presumed consent of the priest mentioned above.”

Canon law specifies certain circumstances under which the sacrament is expected to be administered, among them are cases “of doubt whether the sick person has attained the use of reason, is dangerously ill, or is dead,” and when a sick person has “at least implicitly requested it when they were in control of their faculties.”

In his Friday email to priests, Rozanski noted that the diocesan Chrism Mass would be postponed, and told priests that “Should you run out of either the Oil of the Sick or Oil of the Catechumen, you may bless these oils to replenish your stock.”

The Church’s canon law says that bishops and their equivalents in law can bless the oil to be used in anointing of the sick, while other priests may do so “in a case of necessity, but only in the actual celebration of the sacrament.”

The Diocese of Springfield did not respond to questions regarding the intended length of Rozanski’s temporary suspension.

The bishop's Friday announcement came as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference liturgy committee issued a memo to U.S. bishops, informing them that “with regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.” That memo seemed to refute the liceity of Rozanski’s March 25 policy.

USCCB liturgy chair: No cell phones for confession, no delegation of sacramental anointing

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 05:23 pm (CNA).- The chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee on liturgy wrote to U.S. bishops Friday, to clarify issues related to the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick which have arisen during the Church’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“With regard to Penance, it is clear that the Sacrament is not to be celebrated via cell phone,” Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford wrote in a March 27 memo to U.S. bishops.

“In addition, in the present circumstances cell phones should not be used even for the amplification of voices between a confessor and penitent who are in visual range of each other. Current threats against the seal of confession also raise questions about information on cell phones,” Blair added.

“With regard to the Anointing of the Sick, it is not possible for the anointing with oil to be delegated to someone else, such as a nurse or doctor.

Blair explained to bishops that questions about those matters had been referred to the papal representative in the U.S., apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre. The nuncio consulted with Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, who returned with the answers supplied by Blair to the bishops, according to the memo.

The memo came as bishops have worked to devise policies for sacramental ministry that respond to the tightening social restrictions imposed by civil authorities to slow the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. bishops have suspended the public celebration of Mass, and restricted the celebration of other sacraments.

The Archdiocese of Kansas City last week suggested that priests might use cell phones to amplify conversations during sacramental confession, if social distancing policies required a distance or barrier between priest and penitent. The archdiocese told priests that cell phones would be permissible for confession if priest and penitent were within eyesight. The archdiocese declined to respond to questions from CNA about this policy.

Priests in other parts of the country have also indicated their use of cell phones during sacramental confession undertaken with social distancing.

On Friday, the Diocese of Springfield, Mass, rescinded a policy that would have permitted nurses to physically anoint with oil Catholics seeking the anointing of the sick, while priests recited the requisite prayers, if the context of a hospital setting prohibited immediate contact between the priest and the ill Catholic.

In his memo, Blair suggested to bishops that “when it is not possible to administer the Sacrament[ of anointing], then what the Apostolic Penitentiary said about the Sacrament of Penance might be applied analogously to the Sacrament of the Sick: ‘Where the individual faithful find themselves in the painful impossibility of receiving sacramental absolution, it should be remembered that perfect contrition, coming from the love of God, beloved above all things, expressed by a sincere request for forgiveness (that which the penitent is at present able to express) and accompanied by votum confessionis, that is, by the firm resolution to have recourse, as soon as possible, to sacramental confession, obtains forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones.’”

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 1,500 have died, as of Friday.

 

House passes coronavirus relief bill, Trump signs into law

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The House on Friday passed a $2 trillion relief package in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the third major piece of legislation advanced by Congress in response to the outbreak.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by the House March 27, with the support of a majority of members. It was then presented to President Donald Trump, who signed the bill on Friday afternoon.

After the bill passed the House by voice vote, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) requested a recorded vote, which received insufficient support. He then objected, arguing that a quorum of members were not present to do business. After a count was made, a quorum was determined to be present in the chamber, and the bill passed.

House leadership had initially considered the use of unanimous consent, or passing the bill with no voiced opposition.

The bill authorizes direct checks to individual Americans of amounts up to $1,200 and an additional $500 per child, for individuals making up to $75,000 per year, heads of household making up to $112,500, or married couples filing jointly making up to $150,000 per year.

Payments would be tapered gradually above those thresholds, and phased out completely for individuals making more than $99,000 or joint filers making more than $198,000 a year.

The legislation also allocates around $250 billion to temporarily expand unemployment insurance, and provide grants and loans to small businesses and non-profits. It creates a new unemployment assistance program for contractors and “gig” workers normally not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and adds an additional $600 per week in benefits for those already receiving state UI, or those part the new pandemic UI program.

Among its health provisions, the bill allows for health savings accounts (HSA) to pay for over-the-counter medications, contains a “Good Samaritan” provision so that volunteer health workers do not face liability, and provides $100 billion for hospitals and health care providers.

The Senate passed the bill late on Wednesday night by a vote of 96-0.

In a series of tweets on Friday morning, Massie said that “[t]he Constitution requires that a quorum of members be present to conduct business in the House,” and that if “millions” of Americans still had to go to work during a pandemic, “[i]s it too much to ask that the House do its job, just like the Senate did?”

Also criticizing the bill was Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) who called it a “corporate bailout” with few strings attached and that Congress was not voting on it with “eyes wide open.”

Massie also said the bill was full of “pork” and allowed the Federal Reserve too much authority to print money and distribute it, and that “[t]his stimulus should go straight to the people rather than being funneled through banks and corporations like this bill is doing.”

The bill provides $500 billion for a corporate liquidity program to be administered by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, which critics have called a corporate “slush fund.”

Updated: Springfield, Mass. diocese rescinds policy permitting nurses to anoint

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2020 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- Update, 4:16 pm MT, March 27:

One hour after the publication of the story below, the Diocese of Springfield informed CNA that it has rescinded its permission for nurses to conduct the physical anointing during the celebration of the anointing of the sick. The diocese declined comment regarding the decision to rescind its policy.

 

A Massachusetts diocese authorized a change to norms for the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing, which is an essential part of the sacrament.

“Effective immediately I am allowing the assigned Catholic hospital chaplains, standing outside a patient's room or away from their bedside, to dab a cotton swab with Holy Oil and then allow a nurse to enter the patient's room and administer the oil. If the patient is alert, the prayers may be provided via telephone,” Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield, Mass., told priests in a March 25 message.

“The hospitals need to control bedside access to patients so as to reduce transmission of COVID-19 as well as to preserve very limited supplies of masks and other personal protection equipment(PPE),” Rozanski explained, noting that the policy was devised in consultation with “pastoral services at both Mercy Medical and Baystate Medical centers.”

Mercy Medical Center is a Catholic hospital, and a part of Trinity Health, a Catholic healthcare system.

The Church teaches that only a priest may validly perform the sacrament.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Springfield told CNA March 27 the permission reflects diocesan policy “for now.” The spokesman said the policy was proposed by the Trinity Health system, and has also been proposed to other dioceses.

Trinity Health has not responded to questions from CNA. 

According to the Church’s canon law, “the anointing of the sick, by which the Church commends the faithful who are dangerously ill to the suffering and glorified Lord in order that he relieve and save them, is conferred by anointing them with oil and pronouncing the words prescribed in the liturgical books.”

“The celebration of the sacrament includes the following principal elements: the ‘priests of the Church’ - in silence - lay hands on the sick; they pray over them in the faith of the Church - this is the epiclesis proper to this sacrament; they then anoint them with oil blessed, if possible, by the bishop,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains.

“Only priests (bishops and presbyters) are ministers of the Anointing of the Sick,” the catechism adds.

The minister of the sacrament, who must be a priest for its valid celebration “is to perform the anointings with his own hand, unless a grave reason warrants the use of an instrument,” according to canon 1000 §2 of the Code of Canon Law.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments has spoken on related questions regarding the sacrament of baptism. In a letter published in 2004 by the Canon Law Society of America, Cardinal Francis Arinze, then prefect of the congregation, explained that “if a minister administering the Sacrament of Baptism by infusion pronounces the words of the sacramental form but leaves the action of pouring the water to other persons, whoever they may be, the baptism is invalid.”

With regard to the anointing of the sick, in 2005, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained “the Church has identified down the centuries the essential elements of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick...a) subject: the seriously ill member of the faithful; b) minister: "omnis et solus sacerdos"; c) substance: the anointing with blessed oil; d) form: the minister's prayer; e) effects: salvific grace, the forgiveness of sins, the relief of the sick person.”

“The Sacrament is not valid if a deacon or a layman attempts to administer it. Such an action would be a crime of simulation in the administration of a sacrament, to be penalized in accordance with can. 1379, CIC,” the congregation added.

Canon law establishes that a person who “simulates” a sacrament, or celebrates it invalidly, is subject to ecclesiastical discipline.

 

Ed Condon contributed to this report.

 

As dioceses face coronavirus money woes, Knights of Columbus offer line of credit

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 02:17 pm (CNA).- The Knights of Columbus have offered a $1 million line of credit to Catholic dioceses to help dioceses and parishes suffering from the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is critical for us to support the Catholic Church in the United States at this time, so that the Church can continue to provide irreplaceable spiritual and charitable support, and can keep the staff supporting its mission and outreach employed,” Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson said March 26. “Our fund is designed specifically to help dioceses and their parishes weather this pandemic financially so that they can continue their important work – now and after the pandemic.”

The $100 million fund allows up to $1 million line of credit per Catholic diocese. The program will open March 30 and will be available for 60 days following.

The Knights of Columbus say the interest rate is “very competitive,” equal to the rate of a one-year Treasury bill plus 2.25%.

The line of credit will have a two-year term. At the end of the term, dioceses may convert the line of credit into a Knights of Columbus church loan fully amortized at the prevailing rate for a five, 10 or 20 year period.

These are the same terms offered by the Knights of Columbus' present ChurchLoan program

“The Knights of Columbus has been a key lender to parishes and dioceses for more than a century, and the ChurchLoan program remains a key source of financing for Catholic parishes and institutions,” the Knights of Columbus said.

The Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal organization with nearly 2 million members in more than 15,000 local councils worldwide. Its members worked 76 million service hours in 2019 and helped donate more than $185 million in charitable causes.

Its life insurance branch claims about $109 billion life insurance in force. The insurance program helps fund the knights' charitable work and other efforts to support the Catholic Church.

The Knights have many grassroots initiatives responding to the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has asked members to help provide food and other essentials to those in need. It has also urged members to take part in blood drives. The Knights of Columbus helped pioneer nationwide blood drives in the 1930s.

With churches closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, parishes face dwindling cash flow from collections. It is doubtful whether churches will open for the crowds who typically attend Mass on Easter, as some models project the virus will peak at the time.

Some parishes and dioceses have tried to expand online giving. Catholic charitable outreach also faces shortages of funds at a time of great need.

At the same time, the coronavirus has prompted massive layoffs. About 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment and the unemployment rate could have already risen to 5.5%, the highest since 2015, the Washington Post reports.

Dioceses permit meat on Lent Fridays due to coronavirus

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Several dioceses across the United States have dispensed Catholics from the canonical requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in certain food items becoming difficult to acquire.

The Archdioceses of Boston and Dubuque, as well as the Dioceses of Brooklyn, Houma-Thibodeaux, Metuchen, Pittsburgh, and Rochester, have all issued letters stating that Catholics who may find it difficult to obtain other foods are permitted to eat meat on the last two Fridays of Lent. 

In a letter to his diocese published March 26, Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodeaux, Louisiana, wrote that while the practices of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence on other Fridays during Lent was the law of the Church, he understood that many people in his diocese may be experiencing difficulty with grocery shopping or obtaining meat alternatives. 

Since President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel between the United States and Europe on March 12, grocery stores have reported instances of increased buying of many items. 

While there is not a shortage in the production of food, toilet paper, or other necessities nationwide, in many places, items have been purchased quicker than supply chains are able to replenish stocks. 

In response to this, some grocery stores have implemented “senior-only” hours, for the elderly or otherwise vulnerable populations to go grocery shopping without fear of having to fight for products. 

“I am being mindful of this and have our people's best interest in my heart. Nevertheless, I am also aware that these Fridays of Lent will remain as days of penance and prayer,” said Fabre. 

The bishop said that those who are able to abstain from meat should continue to abstain, but “for those who sincerely find it difficult to embrace this practice, I hereby grant you dispensation from the obligation to abstain from eating meat for the remaining Fridays in Lent (4th and 5th weeks).”

Fabre instructed Catholics in his diocese to substitute the penance of abstaining from meat with “other forms of penance, especially works of piety and charity.” 

Other dioceses issued similar letters, citing concerns that parishioners may not have non-meat food on hand, be reliant on meal deliveries, or otherwise be concerned about leaving the house to go to the grocery store. 

“One of the effects of the current events is uncertainty regarding what food products are available on any given day. At this time, we are called to make the best of what we have at hand or is available for purchase,” said a letter from the Archdiocese of Boston. 

“Many people are using what they have stored in their freezers and on their shelves. Others are depending upon pre-packaged meals or food delivered through support agencies, which are providing an important service for individuals and families in our communities, especially for children and our senior citizens,” the letter added. 

Those who are still able to abstain from meat at this time are encouraged to continue this practice.

The Archdiocese of Boston clarified to CNA that, unlike the other dioceses who have dispensed their congregations from the requirement to abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays, Catholics there are further dispensed from the requirement to abstain from meat on Good Friday if they are unable to obtain meat-free foods. 

Examples given as substitute penance include abstention from desserts or other food items, volunteering time, donating to charity, or increased personal prayer. 

Abortion groups challenge Texas' coronavirus-driven elective surgery ban

CNA Staff, Mar 27, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Texas has said that elective surgeries, including abortions, must halt to free up medical supplies for the response to the coronavirus, but pro-abortion rights groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the order on behalf of the state's abortion clinics.

“It is unconscionable that abortion providers are fighting against the health of Texans and withholding desperately needed supplies and personal protective equipment in favor of a procedure that they refer to as a ‘choice’,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Twitter March 25.

“My office will tirelessly defend Governor Abbott’s Order to ensure that necessary supplies reach the medical professionals combating this national health crisis,” he said.

There are over 1,200 cases of coronavirus in Texas, and at least a dozen people have died. While the infection is not deadly for most people, and requires hospitalization only in a minority of cases, there is still a danger of hospitals exceeding their capacity to care for new patients. Supplies are already short.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide order March 22 barring non-essential surgeries through April 21. The attorney general later said elective abortions would not be considered essential surgeries. Failure to comply with the Texas executive order could mean fines of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

The lawsuit challenging the order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood, and the Lawyering Project

“The Texas attorney general’s enforcement threats are a blatant effort to exploit a public health crisis to advance an extreme, anti-abortion agenda,” the lawsuit charged.

It argued that the ban on elective abortions does not free up hospital space or supplies of personal protective equipment to respond to the new coronavirus pandemic. Continued pregnancy would “impose far greater strains on an already taxed health care system, as prenatal care and delivery involve much greater exhaustion of hospital health care services and (supplies of personal protective equipment) than abortions.”

“Abortion is essential healthcare, and it is a time-sensitive service,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman´s Health, the Associated Press reports. Her organization's three Texas abortion clinics in Austin, Fort Worth, and McAllen have been forced to cancel more than 150 appointments in the last week. This has left some women “begging for the abortions they needed,” she said.

“It is shameful that our politicians are using emergency actions during a global pandemic to push their anti-abortion agenda,” Miller told reporters, the Austin American Statesman reports.

Paxton told Texas Values March 25 that the governor's emergency order blocking medically unnecessary procedures aimed to make clear “all medical procedures that were unnecessary should be stopped, and that definitely includes elective abortions.”

“The truth is abortion, for the most part, is an elective procedure that can be done later,” he said. While he acknowledged that limiting abortion surgeries would “save some lives,” he focused his remarks on medical resources.

“I don’t even see how people who are on the other side of this issue at this time would dispute that we need our hospitals to take care of the really sick,” Paxton said.

The pro-abortion rights groups' lawsuit further claims the order wrongly singles out abortion providers and their patients for differential treatment, compared to other medical providers and patients. The order “effectively bans abortion in Texas for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency,” said the lawsuit.

Delays in securing abortion for women means “attendant risks to their health, well-being, and economic security,” said the lawsuit, which argued that women should not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their wishes.

“COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout do not reduce patients´ needs for abortion; if anything, they make timely access to abortion even more urgent,” it said.

The lawsuit also objects to the ban on medical abortion, saying it is not surgery or a procedure. It argues that this shows the order explicitly aimed to limit abortion access.

Paxton's initial remarks stressed the need for Texans to work together to stop the spread of the coronavirus and to “ensure that our health care professionals and facilities have all the resources they need to fight the virus at this time.”

“No one is exempt from the governor’s executive order on medically unnecessary surgeries and procedures, including abortion providers. Those who violate the governor’s order will be met with the full force of the law,” he said.

In Ohio, the state Department of Health canceled all non-essential or elective surgical abortions that use personal protective equipment. Officials said that abortion clinics were not singled out and letters of violation were also sent to a urology group that allegedly continued to perform surgeries.

Ohio’s health department asked the state attorney general to issue a cease and desist order to Preterm, a Cleveland-based abortion clinic that continues to perform elective abortions despite statewide orders against elective surgeries.

In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves said that state directives to postpone elective and non-essential medical procedures apply to abortion. He pledged support for “whatever action we need to to protect the not only the lives of unborn children, but also the lives of anyone who may contract this particular virus,” CBS News reports.

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the State Health Officer at the Mississippi Department of Health, said he would review the situation.

In Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, where pro-abortion rights support is strong, officials have said that orders halting elective surgeries do not apply to abortions.

A March 18 joint statement from eight medical groups including the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, which tends to take pro-abortion rights stands, asserted that abortion is “an essential component of comprehensive health care.”

The groups argued that abortion is “a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible.” Not being able to obtain an abortion has consequences that “profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”

On March 24, the Catholic Medical Association, along with several other medical groups, issued a statement critical of the March 18 pro-abortion rights statement.

The Catholic Medical Association statement said that abortion “generates more patients to be seen in already overburdened emergency rooms.” Abortion providers themselves instruct women to go to an emergency room if they have any concerning symptoms.

“Approximately 5% of women who undergo medication abortions will require evaluation in an emergency room, most commonly for hemorrhage,” the statement said. “Surgical abortions can also result in hemorrhage. Emergency room personnel – who are already struggling to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic – will be further strained to provide care to these women.”

Some abortion providers are seeking medical supplies despite the need to fight the coronavirus.

Planned Parenthood of Keystone, Pennsylvania posted social media posts March 24 soliciting donations of personal protective equipment including hand sanitizer, home sewn masks, shoe covers, and surgical hats.